Powerful, dynamic and sporty. The Volkswagen Golf GTI has become an icon of motor sport thanks to eight generations and 45 years of history. Let us look back together with Marco Pavone, head of Volkswagen exterior design, at the most important stylistic points that have characterised each of the models up to the present day.

Golf 1 GTI

The original GTI hit the scene in 1976, full of confidence, and sporting a black front grille with a red border and a lean design (still at this point). The headlights, protruding from under the bonnet of the lightweight compact car, form the external end points. The first GTI emblem is chrome and intentionally presents a stark contrast with the black Volkswagen logo. “Even with the original GTI, all the design elements already reflect a clear attitude,” says GTI designer Marco Pavone. He and his team were set the demanding challenge of designing the new GTI.

Golf 2 GTI

“The design of the second generation of Golf GTI is a fascinating development,” says Pavone. Initially sporting twin headlights, like its predecessor, the 16V version of the second generation of Golf GTI came with integrated fog lights from 1988 – each located next to the front headlights. The front grille is still outlined in red, while the bumper itself also features a red GTI line. Under this, for the first time, comes an additional air inlet.

Golf 3 GTI

Generation three of the GTI is somewhat softer and has even more of a wedge shape. “This backs up the sporty character of the Golf GTI,” Pavone explains. The front features a striking modification: the double headlamps of the second generation of GTI disappear under a combined diffuser lens, replaced by a collective diffuser. They give the radiator grille, which now consists of just three thick horizontal bars, a shorter appearance. The front spoiler comes in the same colour as the car, and is once again lowered and broader.

Golf 4 GTI

Four in a row: “Launched in 1998, the Golf 4 GTI has a more modest appearance and, for example, is the first and only GTI not to sport the red stripe on the radiator grille. And yet the model is celebrated to this day as the starting point for a new, clean era of vehicle design. It also set new benchmarks in terms of individuality, quality and speed,” says Pavone. It was particularly quick when equipped with its largest engine: 180 PS allowed a top speed of 228 km/h. From the designer’s perspective, the 25-year anniversary edition was particularly striking.

Golf 5 GTI

“The design of the fifth generation of GTI was once again far more self-contained and takes inspiration from the first GTI,” says Pavone, describing the development. In brief: the return of the classic. This is particularly clear to see from the red trim around the radiator grille. One new and emotional style element is the honeycomb design of the front grille: “Even today, it is still hard to imagine a GTI without it.” The round twin headlights are back – grouped in one module behind dark glass. Just like its ancestor, the fog lights are located low down in the front apron.

Golf 6 GTI

The sixth generation of the Golf GTI transported the tradition of the original version into the future. Two fine red trims run across the front grille and link the bi-xenon headlamps to the dynamic, adaptive lights. The spoiler is now adorned with striking air intakes with sharp fins – three on each side. The vertical fog lights are also located low down. The spoiler takes up the central alignment of its predecessor – but broadens it. A splitter is also installed for the first time. “That gives the Golf 6 GTI the most powerful, modern and angular appearance to date,” explains Pavone.

Golf 7 GTI

The continuous red GTI trim on the seventh generation runs confidently into the slim, full-LED headlights. The bonnet arches right down to the front grille, while sharp lines run from the headlights up to the A pillar. One particularly characteristic element is the daytime running light with its “Wings” design, which also features the red GTI trim. The broader side sills emphasise the fact that this ‘power’ Golf is a dynamic beast. However, the front spoiler, with the typical GTI honeycomb pattern also impresses with wider bumpers extending further outwards.

Golf 8 GTI

More dynamic, purer, and more efficient: the deep-set LED matrix headlights, which come as standard, are enough to recognise that “light is the new chrome” in the case of this high-tech sports compact – GTI number eight. “This Golf GTI has become an icon of the modern era and bears the unmistakable design DNA of its predecessors. However, it embodies these attributes in a more progressive and digital manner than ever before, with a particularly powerful and dynamic stance,” says Pavone. Immediately under the bonnet, we find the familiar red GTI trim.